- JON WILCOX
Over the course of a few days in late February, I watched through my windows as workers emptied out my neighbor's house, filling one industrial dumpster and then another with the contents.
A sweet older couple had lived there since long before I arrived in the neighborhood. I didn't know them well, but we would wave and say hello. As my son grew old enough to toddle around my front yard, the husband would beeline over to coo at him like an adopted grandfather.
We kept our distance after the pandemic began but still waved. And then one day, an ambulance arrived and took the wife away. The husband left not long after. They never came back. I later heard that the wife had contracted COVID-19. She had survived, but in their weakened state, they had moved out of state to be closer to family.
The clean-out crew arrived shortly after and began piling what I imagine were decades-old belongings in the dumpsters. At night, I saw the silhouettes of scavengers in the giant metal bin, the beams of their flashlights sweeping over old chairs and metal shelves as they made rapid-fire judgments about what pieces of my neighbors' old life still had value and what would be left on the literal trash heap.
If you drove down my street, you wouldn't notice anything is different, but my neighbors' exit is one of a million ways the pandemic has changed our lives. This month marks a year since Americans at large began to wrestle with the incoming plague. Everyone had a moment or day it became real. I remember learning the St. Patrick's Day celebrations had been canceled and thinking, "Wow!" It seemed like the right move, but it still felt surprising to see big events put on hold.
In those early days, we believed that the shutdowns and cancelations would be short-lived, and we'd pick up where we left off. Now, it's clear that we are forever changed. We will do things we used to do again. We'll go to restaurants without masks and pack shoulder to shoulder in concert halls, travel to see relatives and go to the grocery store on a whim. But after twelve months of living more contained lives, we've had some time to think about how we want our new world to work. Did you spend more time in the park? Check in on your friends more? Are you entirely sick of Zoom? As we headed into this pandemic anniversary with vaccines rolling out (so slowly in St. Louis), we wanted to consider not just what's happened, but what our future will look like. Some of it is out of our control, but we managed to survive this year by figuring out what is important to us. We're not going back to our old lives, but we can figure what we want to keep and what to leave behind.
— Doyle Murphy
Respecting the Restaurant Employees, Delivery Drivers and Grocery Store Workers Who Kept Us Fed and Soothingly Drunk
For a while there, we as a society flirted with the idea of finally treating delivery drivers, grocery store workers, servers and the like as the unsung heroes they truly are. Employers were handing out hazard pay, employees were cashing in bonuses for working in wildly uncertain circumstances, and those customers with any decency were tipping anyone they could like their money was on fire. It'd be nice if we could say it lasted, but soon things seemed to slide back to where they were at the start of all this, and those good people were left to fend for themselves financially and otherwise. This cannot stand! It's time we recognize all those who help to ensure that our bellies are full of sustenance. We're talking keys to the city, back hazard pay from when employers got back to their greedy default status, tips of at least 25 percent, but why not 50 to 100 percent — everything. If not for those who were willing to charge into the COVID-19 breach and ensure that the masses were not hungry, we'd be in far worse shape today. It's well beyond time we show our appreciation.
Now that we've proved that people can work from home, there's no reason to rush to get back to offices. If the job can be done at home, there's no reason why doing the job at home shouldn't be an option. While under great psychological and financial pressure, most of the country was able to transition to remote working with little to no warning. Working from home used to be considered a luxury situation, but now that we know that it works it should be the standard if at all possible. And if an employee fails at home, there are plenty of people out there looking for a job who would be happy to take their place. Having remote access also unlocks a whole world of employment for disabled and remotely located people, opening up positions to be filled by truly the most qualified, not just whoever can show up to an office.
Zoom Happy Hours
In the beginning of the pandemic, Zoom happy hours were a huge thing across the land. In order to be in style during those first terrifying weeks, one had to watch Tiger King, try to bake sourdough bread and engage in many Zoom happy hours. These online meetings were mostly just an excuse to get shifaced together because the world was ending. But now that we're a whole year into this mess, we don't need any excuse to get shitfaced. Who needs an audience to drink? This is not something that will continue into the After Times. In the After Times, we will drink to celebrate surviving, however broken.
Washing Our Hands, and All That Comes with It
For months, doctors were stumped as to why I was bleeding all the time.
I was just a kid, in middle school, and the backs of my hands seemed to be in a constant state of scaliness, red and bumpy and cracking frequently at the knuckles. At first, my pediatrician suspected eczema, then allergies. Over the course of several attempts to get to the bottom of the matter, we tried just about everything. We switched detergents, I stopped eating grains, I was told I could no longer pick dandelions and blow the seeds off of them, and on and on.
It would take those bloody knuckles being coupled with my mom coming home late from work one day — and the resulting full-tilt panicked meltdown I had before her eventual arrival, convinced something terrible must have happened — for us to figure out what was actually wrong: I had obsessive compulsive disorder. The skin on my hands was cracking because I was washing them compulsively. My meltdown came because I was obsessively worried about my loved ones' well-being.
Over years of therapy that, for a while, included the use of medication, I was able to get a handle on my OCD. That's not to say I was cured — I'm not certain such a thing is possible, really — but I was able to live for at least a decade with it serving as little more than background noise.
But then, along came COVID-19.
Suddenly, I was told that compulsively washing my hands was one of the most important things I could do to protect myself from the virus. Suddenly, worrying obsessively about my loved ones not only seemed far less irrational than it had been, it was downright sensible. Suddenly, I was thrust by global circumstance to face down the full wrath of my anxiety disorder once again. When I look at the cracked and broken skin on my hands now, I can't help but think about how mentally scarred so many of us are going to be from this COVID nightmare. We're not out of the woods yet, and there will be plenty of time to survey the damage and pick up the pieces once it becomes naught but an ugly memory, but it's important to recognize that these past twelve months have been nothing short of traumatic.
I hope that the sky-high rates of anxiety and depression brought on by the pandemic fade. I hope that the people who are suffering from some form of PTSD after all of this find the strength to reach out and get help. For my part, I hope that I'm able to shove my OCD back into the closet again when this is all over. I would love for it to be relegated to mere background noise once more. And I really, really hope I can stop washing my bloody hands so damn much.